Thanks, be to God today dawned to be another beautiful cloudless day but one that would challenge every one of us spiritually and physically? The question is, can our timber wolves and explorers rise to the challenge and task, or will they crumble as some groups have in years past?
8.00 a.m. was a much more reasonable time to get up although it felt that we had just put our head down when it was time to get up. Like in every day past the boys bounced up, got into their uniforms and were ready for the adventure that awaited them.
Today being Good Friday would call on all participants to make a real sacrifice as to the reduced food intake (one regular meal) plus to experience some physical discomforts as part of our days, activities.
Breakfast was simple, a bread roll, cereal, and milk. Immediately after cleanup, we went to the place of repose to pray, to adore Jesus as we reflected on his suffering overnight in the prison and the scourging and death on the cross that is yet to come. Our boys showed great reverence while being present in front of our Lord seeking to console him during his passion, and that they did.
As we withdrew from the Altar of Repose we moved quickly and silently to board our bus for the first of two critical stops – the Holy Stairs that Jesus himself walked up and down to see Pontius Pilate to be judged, scourged and then condemned to death by being crucified the most horrible of all deaths.
We are not the only ones wanting to share a little in the Lord’s sufferings by going up these 28 steps on our knees as hundreds of people were in the line in front of us to do the same thing. This amounted to a 2 plus hour wait in a slowly moving line. The good news, our boys took it all in stride by creating games, sharing stories, laughing, and evening spontaneous singing. In fact, the volume of the singing was so loud that it reached the ears of those on the stairs that the organizers came out to ask us to stop singing.
At long last, we reached the front of the line. We are learning real fast that people in Italy do not respect personal space (like where you are in line) and they will squeeze in between any of our boys to get their spot ahead of our boys. Before we knew it, our group was split into several smaller groups.
But no matter, press on we did. At last, we reached the Holy Stairs as we sank to our knees to realize that on this day so many years ago our Lord walked down these very stairs after being scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, beaten and mocked dripping blood along the way.
The climb up the stairs on our knees was anything but comfortable, yet it felt good to struggle and pray at each step on the way up as the reality of what the Lord has done for us began to sink in, to become more real in different ways for each of us on our pilgrimage. Was this climb worth the wait, absolutely yes, yes and yes!
Today we would have only one main meal, lunch. Father Thomas negotiated a good deal at a small restaurant for a cheese pizza, or a spinach pasta and a soft drink. When you have 55 hungry people descending on the restaurant the staff gets quickly overwhelmed as we took every available seat plus a few extras outside at standing positions. Their small kitchen was overwhelmed with our orders so it took almost 2 hours before the last two Explorers were served. Was the food good, you bet as not a scrap was left on any plate.
We had to hustle to get to the Good Friday services at Holy Cross Cathedral. The church was packed, we found some space near the sidewalls and sat on the floor. When the time came for the procession of the cross (with pieces of wood for the actual cross of Jesus contained within a glass container on the cross being used for the procession) our brother Italian Wayfarers came through the church to clear a path for the procession. We feel to our knees knowing that our Lord died on that very cross just a short few minutes ago on that first “Good Friday”. A very powerful moment for many of the boys.
The Good Friday Service was a beautiful one with beautiful music and Father Thomas providing translation for us as the service was in Italian.
As we exited the church we had one mission in mind, find a washroom or two that could handle 55 people. Public washrooms in Italy are hard to come by with many charging up to 1 Euro per person. We did finally find one at St. Mary Major that could meet our needs.
We now commenced quite a fast-paced walk to St. Praxedes where the pillar that Jesus was tied to for the scourging was located. It was hard for some of us to see that at this pillar our Lord suffered unfathomable pain primarily for people’s sins of the flesh!
We took some private time to pray and venerate the cross in a calmer and quiet church as compared to the hustle and bustle that we have been part of all day. Our boys sang one decade of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as we begged our Lord for his mercy on this day that he gave up his life for us sinners. Thank you, Lord!
Now we made our way to the Coliseum for Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis and tens of thousands of fellow Catholics. It was truly a sea of humanity. We had to walk quite the distance to get to the primary security check point. Security was super tight with Police every where. We once again reminded our boys to stick together as a large blog and not to let people squeeze in between us as we lined up for the security check that included the physical search of our backpacks and the use of a metal detector. Guess what, the boys got split up into three or four groups as others wormed their way in to get to the front of the line.
Now through security we began our trek to the Coliseum to try and find a good spot to view the evenings Stations of the Cross. Dinner was water and a small package of cookies as we are fasting for Good Friday. We sat down at the side of the road to consume our merger offering. Good news – not a single complaint re fatigue or hunger, we are carried on as a happy family.
As we approached our viewing spot we had to go through a second screening and search by the Police, this time it was a little faster.
The Stations of the Cross was beautiful and very meaningful, despite the boys fatigue they stood for the almost 2 hour stations without complaint. Father Thomas translated for us the key points of each station being presented. The music was beautiful and rewarding indeed!
As the stations ended we had a hike out to our bus. This time we moved as one line with each person holding on to the backpack of the person in front of them. We noticed an Italian film crew filming us as we left the site. Again, no complaints as we got on on our bus and headed back to the seminary. We arrived at 11.45 pm, venerated the cross, in bed with all lights out by 12.15 a.m. Yes we could sleep in till 8.30 am!!! Another exciting day awaits us on Holy Saturday!
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